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The best diet for a healthy planet

A small blue planet on a white plate with cutlery

New research indicates eating a healthy diet is also better for the health of the planet.

The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found foods that improve health, such as whole grains, fruit, vegetables, nuts and olive oil, are generally produced with the lowest environmental impact.

Fish is also considered most beneficial to our health, but getting it to our plates has some negative environmental impact.  However, it’s still less of an impact than red and processed meats have, the researchers say.

The study adds to growing evidence a healthy plant-based (Mediterranean-style) diet is not only great for our health, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, type 2 diabetes and obesity, but producing the foods required for that eating pattern is more environmentally sustainable.

The fifteen food groups measured for human health impact were:

  • Whole grains
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Nuts
  • Legumes
  • Potatoes
  • Refined grains
  • Fish
  • Dairy
  • Eggs
  • Chicken
  • Unprocessed red meat
  • Processed red meat
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages
  • Olive oil

The four environmental measures for food production were:

  • Greenhouse gas emissions
  • Land use
  • Acidification
  • Eutrophication (nutrient runoff into waterways)

Earlier this year the EAT-Lancet report attempted to outline a sustainable plant-based diet, although it was criticised for being too extreme, limiting red meat portions to no more than 98g per week.

According to the EAT-Lancet report, globally, agriculture occupies nearly 40 per cent of the land, and food production is responsible for 30 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions and 70 per cent of freshwater use. And converting land for food production is a big part of biodiversity loss.

The good news is following Healthy Food Guide’s tried and true healthy diet advice of eating plenty of vegetables, legumes, fruits and whole grains, enjoying healthy fats such as olive oil, nuts and avocado, and appreciating small portions of meat a few times a week, if that’s what you like, is well in keeping with both a happy body and a happy planet.

Article sources and references

Date modified: October 31 2019
First published: October 2019

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